Dyesha Stahley went down, and for a moment, it appeared that Mesa Dobson’s season would go down with her.
But Dobson rallied around its fallen teammate, Stahley recovered to make an improbable comeback and the same determination that got Dobson this far now has it playing for a state championship.
Sixth-seeded Dobson hung on for a gritty, 59-52 win Friday over No. 2 Peoria Liberty in the Division I girls basketball semifinals at Grand Canyon University Arena, and will make its first title-game appearance since it won the 2010 championship.
Dobson will face No. 5 Goodyear Millennium in the Division I final at 4 p.m. Monday at Gila River Arena. Millennium took down defending champion and No. 1 Phoenix Desert Vista, 52-43, in Friday’s other semifinal.
Against Liberty (28-4), Dobson (29-2) got out to a slow start, trailing 13-4 midway through the first quarter.
That’s when Stahley, Dobson’s top playmaker, averaging 9.7 points and 4.3 assists entering Friday’s game, hit the deck after a collision near center court.
The senior guard immediately grabbed her left knee and cried out in pain, unable to put any pressure on the leg as she was helped off the floor.
“It felt like it just came undone,” Stahley said of her knee. “Like everything unraveled.”
Stahley’s chances of returning looked minimal, especially when she tried to test the leg on the sideline during the second quarter but quickly hobbled back to the bench with a grimace.
But after Liberty took a 28-23 into halftime, Stahley re-entered the game shortly into the third quarter amid a barrage of cheers from Dobson’s fans.
PHOTOS: Girls basketball tournaments
Dobson fans celebrate their 58-49 win over Millennium in their Division I girls basketball championship game Monday, March 2, 2015 in Glendale.
She was clearly limited, but managed to dish out a game-high four assists and cash in 3 of 4 free-throw attempts as the rest of Dobson’s roster picked up the slack.
Seniors Alexis Todd, Shamara Troupe and Kayla Clark all scored in double figures, and Dobson’s bench outscored Liberty’s 17-0, allowing Dobson to stay close and then push past Liberty in the fourth quarter.
“It was huge for us to come back and have (Stahley) come back in again,” Dobson coach Tyler Dumas said. “It was a big lift in a lot of ways. But in her absence, I thought we just hung around, hung around, hung around and made some shots.
“They don’t ever stop believing and they have great mental toughness, and that’s what’s got us to this point.”
Stahley is thought to have a strain or mild sprain of her knee, and will continue to be evaluated in advance of Monday’s championship.
Against Liberty, Dobson proved it has what it takes to win regardless of her status.
“I had so much faith in my teammates,” Stahley said. “Four years, they all worked hard. One person doesn’t make a team, and out there they showed it completely. They made me so proud tonight.”